The Poetry Coalition is a national alliance of poetry organizations working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and the important contribution poetry makes to the lives of people from all ages and backgrounds. Each March, Poetry Coalition members offer poetry readings, workshops, panels, social media projects, and publications on a shared theme of social importance. These have included Poetry & Migration in 2017 and Poetry & the Body in 2018. Each year, a line of poetry is selected as a headline for the theme. In 2017, it was "Because We Come From Everything," a line by Juan Felipe Herrera. And, in 2018, it was "Where My Dreaming and My Loving Live," a line by Tracy K. Smith. The Poetry Coalition is coordinated by the Academy of American Poets and supported by a grant to the Academy from the Ford Foundation. Find the Poetry Coalition on social media with the hashtag #PoetryCoalition.
The March 2019 theme was "What Is It, Then, Between Us?: Poetry & Democracy." Eachyear, any and all are welcome to also offer poetry programs on the theme. Use the hashtag #PoetryCoalition and @Poetsorg on Twitter and the Academy will share information about your programs as it is able.
The 23 founding members, who receive some funding to support March programming planning and presentation, offer possible programming themes and headlines in summer. Staff at the Academy of American Poets compile these suggestions, which are then discussed on two conference calls on which the theme and headline are decided based on consensus.
The Poetry Coalition traces its roots back to the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference held in Minneapolis, Minnesota in April 2015. There, the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Foundation, and the University of Arizona Poetry Center invited leaders from poetry organizations to an informal lunch at which leaders expressed an interest in working more closely together and convening outside of AWP. The Academy of American Poets secured support for such a gathering from the Lannan Foundation, and then planned and organized a convening with assistance from the University of Arizona Poetry Center and the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, which have worked closely with the Academy of American Poets on building this initiative from its inception.
The November 2015 convening, held at the Lannan Foundation's offices in Santa Fe, New Mexico, included representatives of national poetry organizations and initiatives, poetry libraries, poetry festivals, poetry centers, state and city poetry organizations, and poetry programs that support poets from specific racial and ethnic backgrounds, and genders. While some of the organizations publish poetry, all share that they offer public programs and present poets at live events. The meeting was kept to fewer than 25 organizations due to funding limitations and, importantly, to help ensure engagement, participation, and decision-making. At this meeting poetry organizations established collective goals and values, and began talking about programming on a shared theme as a way to promote the value poets bring to our culture and demonstrate the important contribution poetry makes to the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds.
In November 2016, Poets House in New York City generously hosted a convening at which a theme was selected that all organizations would address in programs the following March, Poetry & Migration. After this meeting the Academy of American Poets issued a press release publicly announcing the launch of the Poetry Coalition. The Academy of American Poets secured a grant in 2017 from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to support Poetry & Migration programs. It then secured a major grant from the Ford Foundation to fund annual convenings and provide support for programming efforts of the 23 founding member organizations in 2017 and 2018.
In November 2017, the founding members of the Poetry Coalition met for their third convening at the University of Arizona Poetry Center in Tucson, which also included a visit to Arizona State University in support of a major reading organized by Natalie Diaz, which featured Sandra Cisneros, Rita Dove, and Joy Harjo. At this convening, founding members determined the theme for March 2018 programs, Poetry & the Body.
In November 2018, founding members met at the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, in advance of the 50th anniversary of the shooting on the campus that took the lives of four student protestors in 1970.
Today, the Poetry Coalition is comprised of 29 member organizations, including 23 founding members and 6 affiliate members, all of which share the Poetry Coalition's goals and values. The Academy of American Poets coordinates the work of the Poetry Coalition, serving as the online information hub, and administrative and fiscal lead, managing all fundraising, financial disbursements and reporting, communication, meeting planning, and press and promotion, among other tasks. The University of Arizona Poetry Center and the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University assist with some of this work.
The Poetry Coalition's goals are to: 1) develop a healthy ecosystem of nonprofit poetry oganizations by promoting regular communication, encouraging collaboration and resource sharing, encouraging an atmosphere of inclusivity, and creating space and time for poetry leaders to meet in person; 2) make poetry and its popularity more visible by collectively promoting the art form and collecting and sharing information that supports this case; 3) demonstrate the positive and transformative impact poetry can have on individual readers, communities, and in addressing important issues by sparking dialogues, promoting understanding, and encouraging empathy; 4) grow the audience of poetry readers and supporters (including financial) by engaging in creative projects and with a range of organizations that help us bring poetry to new readers and writers of all ages.
The Poetry Coalition's values, which help guide programmatic efforts, are: 1) alignment: acting on shared mission-driven organizational goals and projects while celebrating diversities among our organizations; 2) inclusivity: welcoming the many diversities of poets and poetry, acknowledging that poetry is both historical and a living, responsive, evolving form; 3) empathy: creativing visibility for poetry's unique ability to foster compassion and human connection through language, as both an inspirational and educational tool; and 4) courageousness: to act boldly, transparently, and with courage on behalf of poets, poetry, and the value both bring to our culture.
Toward accomplishing our goals, the Poetry Coalition's current strategies, some of which will be addressed and achieved over time, are: 1) holding convenings both at and outside of AWP, 2) annual programming on a theme of social importance, 3) finding or funding studies on poetry in the U. S. that more accurately capture the increased demand and impact we witness, 4) pursuing models for fellowship programs for young poetry leaders or color and from under-represented communities; 5) working towards creating a safety net for small poetry organizations; 6) providing training for educators on how to teach poetry, and serving the next generation with youth programs.
The annual November convening, held in a different city each year, is a meeting during which the founding members of the Poetry Coalition discuss plans for annual March programming on shared themes and how to strengthen this effort; examine trends in the external environment that might inform March programs, such as the rise in poetry readership; support an effort taking place locally, such as a major reading or upcoming anniversary; and hear from special guests who have included Margot Atwell from Kickstarter and Sunil Iyengar from the National Endowment for the Arts. The convening is planned by the Academy of American Poets and the organization hosting the meeting, with input from the University of Arizona Poetry Center and the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, and founding members. The convening is underwritten by the Academy of American Poets through a grant from the Ford Foundation. While we are grateful for interest in attending this convening from individuals and organizations, including from those who have offered to pay their own way, because it is a working meeting and for equity and fairness purposes, only founding Poetry Coalition members, whose participation is funded, attend.
At present, only the 23 founding members of the Poetry Coalition receive funding, which includes support to attend an annual convening and some funds to assist with March program planning and presentation, made possible by a Ford Foundation grant to the Academy of American Poets. To date, and for the forseeable future, funding has been limited to supporting the work of the founding members. This group, which includes representation from a variety of poetry organizations across the U. S., including those that champion poets from specific racial and ethnic backgrounds and genders, is intentionally fewer than 25 to ensure engagement, active participation, and swift decision-making, and so that limited programming funding has some meaningful impact.
Affiliate members of the Poetry Coalition are listed on Poets.org and included in press releases issued to the media. They receive advance notice of the annual March programming theme, occasional communications throughout the year with information impacting the poetry field, and are invited to attend the Poetry Coalition's meetup at the AWP conference. In years forward we will look to organize skill-building or informational calls or webinars for affiliate members as well.
We are not accepting new members at this time. We hope to add affiliate members in years forward and will make information available here when that might be possible.
If your question isn't answered here, please feel free to contact Jennifer Benka, executive director of the Academy of American Poets, at [email protected]